The Internet of Things Asks: Comfort or Privacy?


It sounds appealing: Barely lifting a finger,
you set your thermostat, start your coffeemaker, turn
on the lights, fire up your favorite playlist. But what if the price of that convenience
is your private information? Starting to sound a little less appealing. All of those connected gadgets
carrying out all these useful jobs are part of what’s become known as the Internet of
Things, and their increased prevalence in everyday life
is forcing everyone to consider a fundamental give-
and-take: comfort, or privacy? Tech companies, wireless carriers, and all
manner of startups are racing to connect whatever they can, and the benefits have been self-evident-
smart speakers can answer questions, order groceries, or book a reservation. Electronic monitors can let patients leave
hospitals sooner, or allow seniors to live at home for longer. Looking forward, the worldwide adoption of
5G mobile technology will allow more IoT devices to talk to
each other without human intervention at previously unreachable speeds. That means homes that look after themselves,
and cars that take over the driving. As far as industrial applications, think smart
factories and warehouses that can fulfill their own orders
or notify supervisors to problems. And yet all this promise comes with potential
downsides for the customers who own these devices. First, there’s security, or the lack thereof. Even if IoT devices have state of the art
security, more devices means more potential vulnerabilities. In one such example, hackers
accessed the digital thermometer in a casino’s aquarium, and worked their way from there
through the casino’s network to gain access to its database of high rollers. Things start to get
scarier when you imagine malware infecting a self-driving car or a surgical medical device. Other worries concern business practices that
are perfectly legal, if not well known. Smart
factories could be smart enough to track an employee’s every move, including trips to
the restroom. Health-trackers collect blood pressure and
heart-rate information- but what if that gets shared with your insurance provider? It’s not unthinkable that a company would
sell information about a customer’s personal habits gleaned
from one of its devices to advertisers, or even to
hostile governments. And there are already examples of potential
misuse, including 2019 reports that Amazon employees had listened
to recordings of customers using its Echo devices. There’s also the question of utility. Does your baby really need a smart diaper? Does your pet
need a smart door? Does the function of all IoT devices make
up for the increased electronic waste they create? Maybe we should ask Alexa.

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